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According to the National Disaster Education Coalition, earthquakes can occur at any time, and annually, 70 to 75 damaging earthquakes occur throughout the world.

While California and Alaska are two states that experience earthquakes most frequently, other regions of the U.S. are at some risk of experiencing an earthquake. In fact, 45 states and territories in the United States are at moderate to very high risk of earthquakes, and they are located in every region of the country.

Earthquake Preparation
Earthquake Recovery
Earthquake Terminology
Most earthquake-related injuries and deaths result from collapsing walls, flying glass and falling objects caused by the ground shaking. Many occur when people try to move more than a few feet during the shaking to reach a safe zone. Older buildings and hazardous areas, such as those prone to landslides, add to the risk of injury and property loss.

To minimize your risk of injury, learn and practice what to do before, during and after an earthquake occurs:

Earthquake Preparation
If you're in an earthquake-prone area, there are earthquake-specific precautions to take that can help minimize injuries and damages in the event of an earthquake:

Minimize hazards in the home by doing the following:

  • Bolt and brace water heaters and gas appliances to wall studs. If the water heater tips over, the gas line could break, causing a fire hazard, and the water line could rupture. The water heater may be your best source of drinkable water following an earthquake. Install flexible fittings for gas and water pipes.

  • Bolt tall furniture to wall studs. Brace or anchor high or top-heavy objects. During an earthquake, these items can fall over, causing damage or injury.

  • Hang pictures, mirrors and shelves away from areas where people sleep or sit. Brace overhead light fixtures. These items may fall, causing damage or injury.

  • Install strong latches or bolts on cabinets. Latches will prevent cabinets from opening and spilling the contents. Place large or heavy objects on shelves near the floor. Specially-designed waxes and gels may help secure breakables and small items as well.

  • Store weed killers, pesticides and flammable products securely in closed, latched metal cabinets.

  • Be sure your home is securely anchored to its foundation. Homes securely attached to their foundations are less likely to be severely damaged or ripped from their foundations.

  • Repair deep cracks in foundations and ceilings. A professional structural design engineer can provide advice about fortifying exterior structures and repairing structural defects.

  • Consider purchasing earthquake insurance.

Think through your response:

  • Keep a flashlight and sturdy shoes by each person's bed.

  • Discuss your emergency plan with members of your household. Inform guests, babysitters, and caregivers of your plan. Develop a plan for reuniting with family.

  • Designate a "family contact." Make sure everyone in the family knows the name, address, and phone number of the contact person. After a disaster, it's often easier to call long distance, so ask an out-of-state relative or friend to serve as the "family contact."

  • Practice "drop, cover and hold on" in each safe place at least twice a year.

  • Pick "safe places" indoors. Choose spots within a couple steps of where you'd most likely be. Select areas that are away from windows and tall furniture that may fall. Plan to stay under a sturdy piece of furniture, or against an interior wall.

  • Locate safe places outdoors in the open, away from buildings, trees, telephone and electrical lines, overpasses, or elevated expressways.

  • Be aware that fire alarm and sprinkler systems frequently go off in buildings during an earthquake, even if there is no fire. Check for and extinguish small fires and exit via the stairs.

  • If you are in a vehicle, pull over to a clear location, stop and stay there with your seatbelt fastened until the shaking stops. Once the shaking has stopped, proceed with caution. Avoid bridges or ramps that might have been damaged by the quake.

  • If you are in an area near unstable slopes or cliffs, be alert for falling rocks and other debris that could be loosened by the earthquake.

Earthquake Recovery

It is also important to have a plan for dealing with the aftereffects of an earthquake. Unseen damage, debris and damaged utility supply lines can pose some of the greatest hazards. Keep in mind that subsequent aftershocks can compound damage or create new hazards to structures that appear safe. Follow these guidelines in the aftermath of a serious quake:

  • Expect aftershocks. Each time you feel one, drop, cover and hold on. Aftershocks frequently occur minutes, days, weeks and even months following an earthquake.

  • Check yourself for injuries and get first aid before helping injured or trapped persons.

  • Put on long pants, a long-sleeved shirt, sturdy shoes, and work gloves to protect yourself from injury by broken objects.

  • Help people who require special assistance - infants, elderly people and people with disabilities, for example, may need assistance after an emergency.

  • Look quickly for damage in and around your home and get everyone out if your home is unsafe. Aftershocks can cause further damage to unstable buildings.

  • Listen to a portable, battery-operated radio or television for updated emergency information and instructions if the electricity is out.

  • Look for and extinguish small fires. Fire is the most common hazard following earthquakes.

  • Clean up spills of medications, bleach, gasoline, or other flammable liquids immediately.

  • Open closet and cabinet doors cautiously. Contents may have shifted during the shaking and could fall, creating further damage or injury.

  • Watch out for fallen power lines or broken gas lines.

  • Stay out of damaged buildings. Damaged buildings may be destroyed by aftershocks following the main quake.

  • Check for gas leaks. If you smell gas or hear a blowing or hissing noise, open a window and get everyone out quickly. Turn off the gas, using the outside main valve if you can, and call the gas company from a neighbor's home.

  • Look for damage to the electrical system. If you see sparks or broken or frayed wires, or if you smell burning insulation, turn off the electricity at the main fuse box or circuit breaker.

  • Check for damage to sewage and water lines. If you suspect sewage lines are damaged, avoid using the toilets and call a plumber. If water pipes are damaged, avoid using water from the tap. You can obtain safe water from undamaged water heaters or by melting ice cubes.

Earthquake Terminology

active fault - A fault that is likely to have another earthquake sometime in the future. Faults are commonly considered to be active if they have moved one or more times in the last 10,000 years.

aftershocks - Earthquakes that follow the largest shock of an earthquake sequence. Aftershocks can continue over a period of weeks, months, or years. In general, the larger the mainshock, the larger and more numerous the aftershocks, and the longer they will continue.

earthquake hazard - Anything associated with an earthquake that may affect the normal activities of people. This includes surface faulting, ground shaking, landslides, liquefaction, tectonic deformation, tsunamis, and seiches.

epicenter - The point on the earth's surface vertically above the point in the crust where a seismic rupture begins.

fault - A fracture along which the blocks of the earth's crust on either side have moved relative to one another parallel to the fracture.

magnitude - A number that characterizes the relative size of an earthquake. Magnitude is based on measurement of the maximum motion recorded by a seismograph. Several scales have been defined, but the most commonly used are (1) local magnitude (ML), commonly referred to as "Richter magnitude," (2) surface-wave magnitude (Ms), (3) body-wave magnitude (Mb), and (4) moment magnitude (Mw).

plate tectonics - A theory supported by a wide range of evidence that considers the earth's crust and upper mantle to be composed of several large, thin, relatively rigid plates that move relative to one another. Slip on faults that define the plate boundaries commonly results in earthquakes.

seismology - The study of earthquakes and the structure of the earth, by both naturally and artificially generated seismic waves.

Source: Talking About Disaster: Guide for Standard Messages
Produced by the National Disaster Education Coalition, Washington, D.C.   EQ-4

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